Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the state of Colorado in the United States. The park contains 52,485 acres of land that was once inhabited by Native American tribes including the basket maker and pueblo peoples, also known as the Anasazi tribe. In 1868, the American government made a treaty with the Ute tribe that established the area west of the Continental Divide as belonging to the Ute people. A new treaty was established in 1873 that decreased the Ute’s land to a strip that extends from the border of Colorado and New Mexico to an area fifteen miles north of this border. The majority of the Mesa Verde area lies within this region. Americans began visiting the area in the 1870’s, including trappers, farmers, and miners, but these inhabitants were not numerous.

The establishment of Mesa Verde National Park began when Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a skilled mineralogist, moved important artifacts from the Mesa Verde Native American sites to a gallery in Sweden. Although Nordenskiöld brought a scientific perspective to collecting artifacts, citizens became concerned for the historical remnants within Mesa Verde.  Between the years of 1887 and 1906, Virginia McClurg was responsible for much of the effort to inform American and European communities about the importance of the Mesa Verde area. These efforts include writing published poems, establishing the Federation of Women’s Clubs that held 250,000 women, and creating the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association, an organization that focused on preserving the artifacts of the Colorado cliff dwellers and their ancient homes.

Lucy Peabody, an activist who worked in Washington, D.C., spoke to Congress members about giving the Mesa Verde area federal protection. The movement became even more important when general citizens began visiting the area and removing artifacts for private collections in the late nineteenth century. In 1906, after Congress passed the appropriate bill, President Theodore Roosevelt officially established the area as a national park. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Mesa Verde National Park contains canyons that were created by erosion caused by receding waters from ancient oceans and other water sources. This created an elevation that varies between 6,000 and 8,572 feet depending upon the area in the park. The landscape in the park holds low desert plateaus and slight mountainous areas. The park’s climate is semi-arid, producing the largest amount of moisture during the winter and summer months.

Mesa Verde National Park can be accessed by car using U.S. Route 160. The park contains over 4,000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, with 3 sites that visitors can enter including Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Spruce Tree House. The park offers many activities including camping and hiking, and amenities like food and lodging during peak months. Many of the park’s structures like the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, are open to visitors year round.

Image Caption: A photograph taken of the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Credit: Massimo Catarinella/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)